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VCU Health is prepared to receive COVID-19 vaccines

VCU Medical Center expects Pfizer vaccine to arrive Tuesday. Plan in place to receive, store and distribute the vaccine.

Ultra-cold freezer, exterior screen showing temperature of -80 degrees C. Exterior, ultra-cold freezer (Photo: Rodney Stiltner, VCU Health System)

Updated December 14, 2020

By Alex Nowak

In Virginia, COVID-19 vaccine for high-risk front-line health care workers will be available this week. At VCU Medical Center, that could be Wednesday. 

VCU Health is one of a limited number of facilities in the Commonwealth that meets the equipment and storage requirements to safely receive and stow the COVID-19 vaccine. We expect the vaccine to arrive Tuesday and plan to begin vaccinating front-line health care workers Wednesday.  

Here, we share what you should know about VCU Health’s preparations for the COVID-19 vaccine.

How and when will VCU Health get the vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration over the weekend, after showing it is safe and more than 94% effective. We anticipate the vaccine will be distributed state by state, and then to designated health systems and long-term care facilities.

VCU Health expects to receive a limited initial supply of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday. We will then begin vaccinating high-risk, front-line VCU Health medical workers on Wednesday. A vaccine by Moderna is expected to receive FDA approval shortly. 

What is VCU Health’s plan for distributing the vaccine?

Weeks ago, VCU Health created an internal vaccine distribution task force to develop a plan that ensures equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. We anticipate initial vaccine supply will be low, and our first priority is the safety of our team members and patients.

Following guidance from the CDC and in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, we will offer the vaccine in phases.

We will first offer the vaccines to interested front-line medical workers so they can safely care for all of our patients during the pandemic. This includes those who provide care to known or suspected COVID-19 patients, such as in our COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit or our emergency department. It also includes employees who regularly work in long-term care facilities.

After that, the distribution phases are flexible as we get a better understanding of availability and continue to learn more about the new vaccines. Our plan will include distributing the vaccine to an expanded pool of VCU Health employees, patients and hopefully, the broader community.

Though exact timing is uncertain, we will always make decisions with the safety of our team members, patients and the community in mind.

How will we store the vaccines?

Ultra-cold freezer, interiorVCU Medical Center — VCU Health’s downtown hospital — meets all of the requirements to safely receive, store and transport the COVID-19 vaccines.

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines must be stored in extremely cold temperatures. The Pfizer vaccine can be stored up to six months in special ultra-low temperature freezers set to -80 degrees C. The Moderna vaccine can be stored up to six months in a standard freezer that maintains a temperature of -20 degrees C.

As an academic medical center, VCU Health already has a number of these ultra-cold freezers, as well as the freezers and refrigerators necessary to store chemical medications and sensitive vaccines. We also have a new freezer to create extra storage space to ensure we are as prepared as possible to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to whomever needs it.

How much vaccine will VCU Health receive?

The state of Virginia is preparing to receive an estimated 480,000 doses of vaccine for health care personnel and long-term care residents.

Working closely with the Virginia Department of Health, we issued an initial request for several thousand doses of vaccine to meet the demand of our team members. We expect to receive approximately 4,000 doses for initial distribution.

Learn more abut the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.